Gondwana Records – Soul And Character

08.04.2021
As a DJ and musician, Matthew Halsall became a label operator. Starting with a local focus on Manchester’s contemporary jazz scene, the trumpeter, composer and bandleader has since given his imprint Gondwana Records a fairly international focus.

»A home for like-minded kindred spirits« was what he had in mind when Gondwana Records was born in 2008, Matthew Halsall tells us. »Jazz from the meditative-spiritual world, more contemporary modern jazz, neo-classical, ambient and electronic crossover are our strengths«, says the trumpeter, composer and bandleader, outlining his label’s profile. »But we’ve also released some stuff that goes beyond that and that we’re really proud of – Allysha Joy, Noya Rao, or most recently with Caoilfhionn Rose, a fantastic singer-songwriter from Manchester. We’re not afraid to break out, nor do we want to get stuck in a routine of putting out the same thing over and over again.« First and foremost, though, his goal is not to »make a lot of money or become a big corporate company«, but to offer »a happy and supportive place for musicians, he emphasizes. »It’s quite an independent soul business.« Currently, five employees take care of the label’s needs, everything is shared fairly. The focus is on respect for the artists and the tremendous energy they put into their releases. »We try to keep it balanced, to be aware that decisions have an impact on togetherness at all levels, and also to make the label more diverse.«

»We’re not afraid to break out, nor do we want to get stuck in a routine of putting out the same thing over and over again.« (Matthew Halsall)

Halsall started collecting records when he was 14. Two years later, he became obsessed with labels like Warp Records and Ninja Tunes, as well as classic jazz labels like Blue Note and Impulse!, later with imprints like Strata-East and others. »As a collector and DJ, I guess I was one of those people who were more interested in the label side of things«, says the now 37-year-old. At the same time, he started making music himself and discovered that there was a healthy jazz scene in Manchester. Central to that was Matt & Phred’s Jazz Club, which presented contemporary crossover jazz seven nights a week and provided a platform especially for Manchester acts like The Cinematic Orchestra. »There was a mix of hip-hop, drum’n’bass, spiritual jazz and folk going on there – a fairly eclectic sound. I was there four to five nights a week and eventually started to talk to the musicians.« Quickly, this gave rise to the idea of »shine a light on this interesting scene with a label.« In addition to his own records, those of saxophonist Nat Birchall were among the first Gondwana releases. In addition to the reference to his mother’s former antique store, the idea of the eponymous supercontinent also expresses the idea of a world community. At first, he says, it was harder than he thought, but by GoGo Penguin’s debut album, a new level had been reached. Halsall began looking at the bigger picture and signing new artists: Mammal Hands, Phil France and John Ellis added to the roster, then Portico Quartet and Hania Rani joined. «It’s just grown on a nice steady pace«_, Halsall says.

Although he nowadays appears more as a radio presenter than a club DJ, dancefloor culture is still very important to him: »My biggest influence, both as a musician and label owner, has been DJs: Gilles Peterson and Mr. Scruff are two of the most important figures in my musical education.« Starting with a local focus, Gondwana has since taken on quite an international outlook: In addition to British acts, artists from Poland, Australia, the U.S. and Belgium have joined the catalogue. Some come to him via the demo page, but also via recommendations from his musicians. Others he actively approaches when he feels they fit the label philosophy. »Development happens in phases«, Halsall says. His main credo as an A&R: »It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.« What a production must have to become a Gondwana release? »First and foremost, it has to be honest and have a sense of soul and character that, when you then face the artist in person, feels true and makes you feel a strong, deep connection between the person and the music.« Just about all releases appear on vinyl, often in collector’s editions. »Ambitious and playful« is the motto, also when it comes to the artwork, which he is responsible for with his brother. In addition to classic jazz labels, Factory Records is also one of his favourites as a label designer. Scheduled for 2021 are albums by Portico Quartet, Hania Rani and himself, an EP by Mammal Hands, and releases by some new signings from Los Angeles, Berlin and the Middle East.

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